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Biden Administration Gives Arizona $20.8 Million For Mental Health Oversight in Schools 

October 2, 2022

By Corinne Murdock |

On Wednesday, the Department of Education (ED) announced the distribution of over $20.8 million to increase mental health oversight in Arizona schools.

The funds may be applied to a variety of mental, social, and emotional initiatives within schools. This includes school counseling, mentorships, and bullying and harassment prevention.

During a press call on Wednesday, the ED featured insight from Dr. Marty Pollio, the Jefferson County Public Schools superintendent in Louisville, Kentucky. Pollio said that the SCG funds allowed for three means of school improvement:

  1. Identify students in need and in crisis who need mental health support like counseling; 
  2. Reduce the counselor-to-student ratio;
  3. Train teachers on how to identify troubled students and support school personnel.

Pollio suggested that mental health professionals, such as board-certified behavioral analysts, should be deployed to classrooms to identify problematic students. 

“Educators have to do more than ever,” said Pollio.

AZ Free News asked the Biden administration whether they would be providing guidelines for behavior analysis enabled by SCG funds, such as what students would be deemed problematic as Pollio suggested. The ED said they weren’t providing guidelines. Rather, the ED said that level of management would be up to the states and districts. 

“[The SCG] allows states and districts to tailor their funds to each district and school,” said one of the officials. 

The funds come from the Strong Connections Grant (SCG) within the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act (BSCA). Nationwide, grant funds totaled over $971 million.

ED Secretary Miguel Cardona asserted that teachers have been handling student behaviors on limited funding and resources, and that students behaved better with reduced disciplinary action and increased promotion of positive behavior. Cardona noted that in all, investments to improve mental health in schools through SCG total $1 billion. 

“We must broaden our focus beyond physically safe learning environments,” said Cardona. “If we’re serious about equity and opportunity, we must expand our definitions of learning and growth to include mental and emotional health.”

MORE ON THE STRONG CONNECTIONS GRANT

President Joe Biden’s special assistant for education policy, Maureen Tracey-Mooney, said that the SCG funds are designed for “high impact strategies” that would ultimately impact home life, such as counseling, tutoring, mentoring, and summer learning.

Earlier this month, Cardona sent a letter to the Arizona Department of Education (ADE) notifying them of this recent investment. Cardona’s letter provides educators with suggestions and guidelines on how to implement the SCG funding.

The ADE will decide which school districts will receive the SCG funds and oversee their expenditure. However, the ED retains the authority to audit and investigate schools’ use of the SCG funds. 

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

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